Let’s pretend you are invited to my home for coffee. When you knock on my front door I greet you with a bandana and proceed to blindfold you. Then I tell you that coffee is brewing somewhere in my house and you have to find it using only your sense of smell. At first you might try to find the kitchen assuming this is the most logical place for a coffee maker. But the smell of coffee is faint. You continue to sniff your way through the house until you finally find the coffee brewing in a downstairs bedroom. But wait! Before you can fill your mug I inform you there are actually three coffee pots brewing in the house. You need to find all three before you are rewarded with a steaming hot mug.
You are a dog. . . . . .
Ok not really but for this illustration the blindfolded you is representative of a diabetic alert dog. The three coffee pots are my three children with type 1 diabetes. The coffee is brewing when their blood sugar is below 80 or above 200. Sometimes only one pot is brewing. Sometimes all three. A service dog has the job of determining who is brewing and then to alert accordingly.
Did you know a dog’s sense of smell is at a minimum 10,000 times more powerful than our own sense of smell? Weird but true. Here’s another weird but true fact. Changes in blood sugar can be detected in saliva and human breath. Isoprene is a common natural chemical found in our breath. When a type 1 diabetic has a low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) isoprene levels significantly increase. Humans cannot detect the smell of isoprene but a dog can. A diabetic alert dog can be specially trained to seek out or “hunt” the smell of high levels of isoprene in order to receive a treat or reward.
Middle School Drunk
A good diabetic alert dog is trained to do more than just detect a change in smell. In our case the dog will sleep in the bedroom with Brady and Cyrus. Brady has been diabetic for over 10 years now. As a result he has developed hypoglycemia unawareness. This means he no longer recognizes the symptoms of a low blood sugar until his blood sugar is below 50. This is extremely dangerous but even more dangerous if it happens while he’s sleeping. When Brady has blood sugar this low his symptoms mimic that of a drunk person. He has slurred speech, blurred vision and he often stumbles when walking. When this happens in the middle of the night it can be hard for Brady to come up the stairs to the master bedroom for help. A diabetic alert dog would help with this situation in two ways. First, the dog would wake Brady before his blood sugar gets too low. Then, Brady can instruct the dog to “go tell” and the dog will run to the master bedroom and wake me. The cool thing is that with consistantly catching low blood sugar at a more reasonable number, hypoglycemia can be reversed. This would keep Brady safer and lessen the long term negative impacts on his health.